Saint Louis University

New research by Saint Louis University psychology professor John Chambers, Ph.D., and University of Florida colleagues Lawton Swan, Ph.D., and Martin Heesacker, Ph.D., examining people's perceptions of income inequality in America has yielded some interesting outcomes.

John Chambers, Ph.D.

The study, "Better Off Than We Know: Distorted Perceptions of Incomes and Income Inequality in America," found that people not only exaggerate how much inequality has grown over recent decades, but also underestimate American's average income.

The study showed, for example, that survey respondents thought the income gap between the highest- and lowest-earning 20% of Americans was over $2,000,000. Yet in reality, the income gap is only about $160,000. Similarly, respondents thought the average American household income was only $43,000, but in reality it is about $68,000-$25,000 greater than respondents believed.

In addition, respondents underestimated the incomes of both European-Americans and African-Americans, whose income levels are above and below the national average, respectively.

Chambers says economic conditions in American are more favorable than people seem to realize and that opens the door for new areas of dialog.

"Given current public debates over rising inequality, its impact on society and how (or whether) is should be addressed, our paper deals with an important and timely topic," Chambers said.

A paper on the study findings has been accepted by the journal, "Psychological Science."